Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Musket, George

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MUSKET, alias Fisher, GEORGE (1583–1645), catholic divine, son of Thomas Fisher and Magdalene Ashton, was born in 1583 at Barton, Northamptonshire. His father was of the middle class, and his mother of high family. He was educated for three years partly at Barton and partly at Stilton, and subsequently for about half a year in Wisbech Castle, where he was an attendant on the incarcerated priests, though evidently as a volunteer, and where in 1597 he was converted to the catholic religion (Morris, Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers, ii. 266, 267). Two of his brothers were also converted about the same time, viz. Richard, who ultimately joined the Society of Jesus, and Thomas, who became a secular priest. George proceeded to the English College of Douay, and was formally reconciled to the Roman catholic church. He continued his studies there for four years, and was then sent to the English College at Rome, where he was admitted 21 Oct. 1601. He took the college oath 3 Nov. 1602, was ordained priest 11 March 1605-6, and was sent to England in May 1607, but he appears to have been detained at Douay, where he was engaged for upwards of a year in teaching theology.

On 9 Sept. 1608 he left Douay for the English mission. He resided for the most part in London, and Dodd says it was the general belief that 'no missioner ever took greater pains, or reconciled more persons to the Catholic church' (Church History, iii. 98). He was very dexterous in managing conferences between representatives of his own co-religionists and protestants, and gave a remarkable instance of his polemical capacity on 21 and 22 April 1621, when he and John Fisher [q. v.] the Jesuit held a disputation with Dr. Daniel Featley [q. v.] and Dr. Thomas Goad [q. v.] In the reign of Charles I he was in confinement for many years. On 6 Jan. 1626-7 secretaries Conway and Coke issued a warrant for the apprehension of him and of Dr. Smith, bishop of Chalcedon, and there is a list, dated 22 March 1626-7, of 'Popish books and other things belonging to Popery,' taken in the house of William Sharples in Queen's Street, St. Giles's-in-the-Fields, presumed to belong to ' Mr. Fisher, otherwise Mr. Muskett.' A memorandum, conjecturally dated 1627, states that Musket had several years before broken out of Wisbech Castle, had since been banished, and, having returned, had again been taken prisoner. On 6 Oct. 1628 he was in confinement at the Gatehouse. Subsequently he was brought to trial, and, as one of the witnesses swore positively to his saying mass, he was condemned to death. He remained for twenty years under sentence, 'during which time he found means to exercise his functions with the same success as if he had enjoy'd his liberty' (Dodd, iii. 98). At the intercession of Queen Henrietta Maria he was reprieved and afterwards pardoned, but only on the condition of his remaining in confinement during the king's pleasure. When a proposal was made in 1635 for the appointment of a catholic bishop for England, Musket's name was in the list of persons proposed to the holy see. He was still a prisoner when he was chosen president of the English College of Douay in succession to Dr. Matthew Kellison [q. v.], who died on 21 Jan. 1640-1; but through the queen's intercession he was released and banished. He arrived at Douay on 14 Nov. 1641. Though he governed the college in the worst of times, he contrived to extinguish a debt of twenty-five thousand florins. He died on 24 Dec. 1645, and was succeeded in the presidency by Dr. William Hyde [q. v.]

Dodd says that 'as to his person he was of the lowest size, but perfectly well shaped and proportioned. . . . His eyes were black and large, and his countenance both awful and engaging.' The Italians styled him 'Flos Cleri Anglicani.' He is believed to be the author of an anonymous book, entitled 'The Bishop of London, his Legacy; or Certaine Motiues of D. King, late Bishop of London, for his change of Religion and dying in the Catholike and Roman Church. With a Conclusion to his Brethren, the LL. Bishops of England. Permissa Superiorum' [St. Omer], 1624, 4to, pp. 174. In this polemical work the author only personates Bishop John King [q. v.], as he himself declares (cf. Brydges, British Bibliographer, i. 506). Dodd says of this work, 'Some Protestant writers ascribe it to Mr. Musket, a learned clergyman, but how truly I will not say' (Church Hist. i. 491).

[Foley's Records, vi. 207, 211, 221; Gee's Foot out of the Snare, 1624, pp. 78-80, 99; Panzani's Memoirs, p. 226; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1627-1628 pp. 7, 105, 480, 486, 1628-9 pp. 345, 365.]

T. C.